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Captains Fury, Page 18

Jim Butcher

Chapter 33~34

  Chapter 33

  Tavi looked up at the evening sky and grimaced at the cheerily shining stars. He would have preferred pitch darkness for the raid. Such conditions made it virtually impossible for any kind of organized activity, but considering that Kitai could see in the dark, his own small group would have been at far less of a disadvantage than the forces of the civic legion, the Grey Guard, and any other troops who might be in position in the capital.

  Granted, the deceptive shadows and sourceless glow of starlight could be worse than pure darkness when it came to aiming at a target, but Tavi would vastly have preferred a night so stygian as to prevent him from becoming a target in the first place.

  "Staring out the window isn't going to make the time pass any more quickly," Ehren observed.

  Tavi turned from the window of his room at the boardinghouse and gave Ehren a very direct look.

  I'm just saying," Ehren said, spreading his hands.

  Tavi sighed and paced over to his bed. It was after midnight, and the rest of the house had been asleep for hours. Araris was stretched out on one bed, fully dressed, snoozing. Ehren, in his chair by the door, was patiently sewing a new hem on one of the evening's disguises, his needle moving smoothly and steadily.

  Tavi sat down on his bed, drew his sword from its scabbard, and got out his whetstone. He spat on it, and began stroking the sword's edge with focused, deliberate movements.

  After a little while, Araris turned his head, opened one eye, and said to Tavi, "Give over, man. If it isn't sharp by now, it's never going to be. "

  "All this criticism had better not be setting a pattern for the evening," Tavi growled.

  Araris turned to Ehren, and said, "Don't take any offense, Sir Ehren. He's always been the sort to start running his mouth when he gets worried about something. It usually got him into one kind of trouble or another. "

  "I know what you mean," Ehren responded. "There was this one time in class during our final examination. . . "

  Tavi let out a disgusted sigh and rose. "I'm going to see if the ladies need anything. " He strode to the door, ignoring Ehren's grin, and went to the room down the hall. He knocked quietly, and said, "It's me. "

  Isana opened the door, smiling. "Come in, dear. "

  Tavi returned her smile and hoped it didn't look as tense as he felt. "Thank you. "

  Inside the room, Kitai sat cross-legged on the floor, dressed in dark, closely fit clothing. She was carefully coiling a slender rope. She looked up at Tavi and smiled. "Chala. Is it time to leave already?"

  "Not yet," Tavi admitted.

  "Then why are you here?" she asked.

  Tavi scowled. "Ehren and Fade didn't like the way I was running my mouth. "

  Kitai put down her rope, stared at him for a second. Then she turned to Isana. There was another moment of silence, and both of them burst out into. . .

  Into giggles.

  Kitai and Isana-his mother-were giggling.

  He blinked at them for a moment. Then scowled more deeply, and demanded, "What?"

  Their giggles became a regular gale of bubbling laughter, and Isana actually had to sit down on the bed.

  Tavi felt his scowl deepen. "Tonight is hardly a laughing matter. "

  They laughed themselves breathless, and as Tavi grew more frustrated, a single glance at him was enough to send them into fresh bursts of merriment. It wasn't until Isana sat with her hands pressed against her stomach and tears in her eyes that it finally began to die down.

  "I'm glad someone's enjoying themselves tonight," Tavi said. "Is everything ready?"

  "I believe so," Isana said, her voice still quavering slightly.

  "All the pieces of your plan are ready to go, Aleran," Kitai said, nodding. "Not that there is much point in all this preparation. "

  "Oh?" Tavi asked. "Why not?"

  "Because it will not work out the way you expect," she said calmly.

  Tavi frowned at her. "You've seen the plans, the guards' positions, the defenses. If you thought it wasn't going to work, why didn't you say anything yesterday?"

  "The plan is good," Kitai said. "You did not miss anything. "

  "Then why would you think it's going to go wrong?"

  "Because it always does. " Kitai smiled at him. "It is the nature of life. Something unexpected happens. Something goes wrong, and the plan must change. "

  "If that happens," Tavi said, emphasizing the first word very slightly, "then we'll adapt. "

  "Tell me this," Kitai said. "In your plans, why did you not tell us what Varg was going to do?"

  Tavi grimaced at her. "There's no way of knowing," he said. "I think he'll cooperate, but. . . "

  Kitai nodded her head in satisfaction, gathered up her coils of rope and put them in a leather case on her belt. "Just so long as you know that tonight will not go to plan. "

  "Pessimist," Tavi said.

  "Tavi," Isana said, "were the coldstones sufficient?"

  He still couldn't believe that his mother had helped Kitai burgle a dozen restaurants in the dead of night. "They should be," he said. "I'm more worried about the armor. It's close, but it isn't perfect. "

  "One can hardly expect to acquire custom-made, counterfeit suits of armor in two days," Kitai replied. "Not even here in the capital. "

  "I know, but. . . " Tavi sighed. "There's no way we're getting inside once the alarm is raised. "

  "We have made the best preparations we can, Aleran," she told him. "There is no sense in letting it worry you at this point. "

  "Probably," he said.

  "But you will worry anyway. " She sighed.

  "Perhaps it isn't entirely his fault," Isana murmured. "I'm afraid it's a habit he learned from me. " She faced Tavi, and her expression became much more serious. "But she's right, dear. Worry is fear in disguise. And fear will eat you from the inside out if you let it. " She gave him a faint smile. "Believe me. I know. "

  Tavi took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. If anyone in all of Alera had good reason to worry-and fear-surely he was that person. At the same time, though, he recognized good advice when he heard it. He might not be able to follow it, but it would probably be smart to try, at least in the long term. "I'll try," he said drily. "But not tonight. I've got enough on my mind without adding more pressure. "

  Isana smiled at him and nodded. "We'll be ready to go when it's time," she told him.

  Kitai snorted as she rummaged through a second belt case, laying out several tools in a neat row. "Only if there isn't someone here distracting us with foolish conversation about things he cannot change. "

  Tavi was about to say something about the two of them not liking the way he ran his mouth either but thought better of it. Of all the things he expected to face tonight, paralytic fits of laughter at his expense had been rather low on the list. "We'll go as soon as Ehren's done with the cloaks. "

  He nodded to both of them and paced back down the hall to his room. When he entered, Araris was standing in the middle of the floor, his body shrouded by a long grey cloak. "Are you sure it isn't going to hang too low?" he asked. "Cloaks look very fine, but they're impractical enough to fight in without making them long enough to trip yourself on, too. "

  "It'll be another four or five inches higher, once you've got the armor on," Ehren assured him. He glanced up at Tavi and tossed him a second grey cloak, rolled into a bundle. "This seems a little familiar. Try it on. "

  Tavi unfurled the cloak and donned it. Ehren came over to inspect the hem, which hung halfway down his shins. "Not bad. Not quite uniform length, but it should pass in the dark. "

  "Right," Tavi said.

  Outside, the city's bells struck a single note, as they did for each hour between sunset and dawn.

  Midnight.

  "All right," Tavi said. He seized his pack. "Let's go. "

  The first part of the plan was, in some ways, the most dangerous.

 
The Grey Tower was a nondescript sort of building, utterly lacking in the drama its name-and role in history-implied. It did not look particularly menacing. For that matter, it hardly looked like a tower. It was an unassuming stone building of several stories. There was an institutional look to the square structure, with its even, identical rows of windows that spoke more of regularity and economy than of style or art. There was a wide, green lawn around the building, devoid of any decoration and easily watched.

  For centuries, the Grey Tower had served an important role in Aleran society, as the sole prison in the Realm capable of holding the upper strata of the

  Citizenry captive against their will. There were furies forged into the very rock of the Tower, fused into each cell by dozens of the most potently gifted furycrafters in the Realm for the sole purpose of neutralizing the crafting of the Tower's prisoners.

  In addition to its protective furies, the Tower was also home to the Grey Guard, a half century of Knights Ferrous recruited specifically for the quality of their character and their loyalty to the Realm. Indeed, there was even a Crown Law on the books that required the Crown to pay any Guardsman offered a bribe three times the offered amount when the Guardsman turned in the person responsible for the attempt. In its centuries of duty, not one single Grey Guardsman had ever accepted a bribe.

  All of which meant that there would be no relatively easy escape from the Grey Tower, as there had been from the stockade at the Elinarch's fortifications. In point of fact, no prisoner had ever escaped the Grey Tower-until Tavi and Ki-tai had overcome the inward-focused defenses of the Tower and its personnel and extracted Antillar Maximus from his cell during the Vord attack several years past.

  At that time there had been little evidence of traditional prison accoutrements. There had been no bars, no gates, and no walls around the grounds.

  Since then, things had changed.

  The first obstacle Tavi had to overcome was the fifteen-foot wall around the outside perimeter of the lawn. It was two feet thick and made of the same interwoven layers of stone that comprised the siege walls of Legion fortresses. The wall's top was coated in a layer of razor-sharp stone protrusions and dotted with sculptures of tiny owls the size of a man's hand-gargoyles.

  Gargoyles were fairly common guardian furies, often used in the fortresses and residences of the rich and powerful, and though their appearance could vary greatly, they all had one thing in common-they were built to be large, powerful, and intimidating. The cost in effort and furycraft needed to maintain a gargoyle meant that they were expensive to keep, and since the Grey Tower was a state institution, economy was a constant consideration.

  It had been Tavi's idea to employ a greater number of weaker furies. For an effort comparable to the work needed to maintain a single gargoyle, the wall (also Tavi's suggestion) could be completely surrounded with furycrafted sentinels. The owls were not intended to be creatures of violence, as most gargoyles were. They were simply there to raise a shrieking alarm should anyone attempt to climb the wall.

  All of which meant that the only way to get into the grounds, other than flying in or somehow vaulting the wall, was through its manned and guarded gate-which opened for no one but the Grey Guard and those couriers and legal personnel who carried a special authorization from the Crown itself.

  That was why Tavi, Ehren, and Araris headed for the docks. Tavi led them into a darkened alley just off a street lined with taverns and wine clubs.

  "Are you sure about this?" Araris murmured.

  "I used to go to the Tower every week to play ludus with Varg," Tavi murmured as he unbelted his sword. "I got to know most of the Guardsmen. The men they pick for that job don't like to change their routine. Carus and Gert will be along anytime now. "

  Araris took off his own sword belt and set it aside. "What if the schedule has changed?"

  "It hasn't," Ehren said. "I spread a little money around. They have standing weekly reservations at the Scarlet Lantern. "

  "Carus thinks he's a wine connoisseur," Tavi said. "Well. Whenever he isn't too drunk to pronounce the word. Gert likes the dancers there. "

  Tavi frowned, faintly. It made him more than a little uncomfortable to contemplate what he was about to do. He'd been on pleasant speaking terms with them. The two men were loyal servants to the Realm, and had always been courteous with Tavi, then a scrawny young page well short of his full growth. What he was about to do seemed a poor way to repay their fidelity and respect.

  Ehren peered around the corner of the alleyway. "Tavi. "

  Tavi eased up and looked out onto the street. Furylamps were less frequent in this part of town than in the rest of the city, but he could see well enough to identify the two Grey Guardsmen, walking with the carefully steady steps of men who had been enjoying a few well-earned cups on their evening of leave.

  Tavi beckoned Araris. The singulare moved silently to Tavi's side and passed him a small sack weighted with gravel.

  "Drunk or not," Araris said, "they're Knights Ferrous. If they get a chance to draw their blades, these blackjacks aren't going to be of much help. "

  "And if we go after them with swords on our belts, they could feel the metal coming in plenty of time to draw," Tavi countered.

  Araris glanced over his shoulder at his sword, leaning against a wall. "I don't like it. "

  "If it came down to a contest of blades, we'd have to kill them," Tavi said. "I'm not willing to do that. "

  "They won't feel the same way about us," Araris said. "No guard or civic le-gionare alive is willing to tolerate an attack by footpads. "

  "Then we'd better get it right the first time. " He glanced at the men coming toward them. They would pass the mouth of the alley in another moment. "Shhh," Tavi murmured, and crouched in the thickest portion of shadows.

  A moment later, footsteps approached the alley. The two men walked steadily past. One of them, probably Cams, let out a rumbling belch. Then they were past the alley and continuing on down the street.

  Tavi rose from his crouch and stole silently after them. He couldn't hear them, but he knew Ehren and Araris were at his back.

  Tavi took the taller man, Cams, as Araris stole up behind Gert. Tavi traded a look with the singulare, and they closed the last few steps together.

  Tavi swung the blackjack with all the strength of his arms and shoulders, and it slammed solidly into the base of Carus's skull and the top of his neck. The man dropped to the ground like a wet blanket.

  Araris swung at Gert, but whether it was because of some small sound that betrayed his presence or because of the Grey Guardsman's instincts, Gert flinched at the last second, and only staggered under the blow.

  Gert's sword hissed from its scabbard, even as he staggered, off-balance.

  Araris pressed in to strike again, but a wobbling thrust of the Guardsman's sword forced Araris to dodge, spoiling the attack. Gert, wobbling but still on his feet, turned and slashed at Tavi, forcing the young man to leap back.

  Nearly panicked, Tavi flung the blackjack at Gert's head, hoping to distract the man's attention from Araris, but the Guardsman's blade slashed through the leather sack, spilling its contents onto the cobblestones. Then he whirled and pressed the attack on Araris.

  At least, he did so until Ehren all but flew out of the shadows. The little Cursor bounded into the air, body twisting as he did, one foot lashing out in a kick driven by the speed and strength of his whole body. The kick struck Gert just above his right ear and nearly flung the man to the street. He landed in a boneless heap.

  Tavi felt a dizzying surge of relief. "Good work, Ehren. Come on. " He seized Carus while Araris and Ehren grabbed Gert, and they dragged the two unconscious men into the alley. Ehren uncovered a small furylamp, and they bound and gagged both men.

  Once that was done, they paced down the alley, to where they had cached what they would need for the rest of the evening. Tavi had donned his armor so often, now, that he ha
rdly needed to think about it as he put it on. The counterfeit armor of the Grey Guard, though, was subtly different in design than Legion-standard lorica, and it took him a frustrating moment longer to get it fastened on. Once that was done, he buckled on his sword and donned his grey cloak, one almost identical to those of the two men on the alley floor.

  Ehren passed him a bottle of wine. Tavi swallowed a gulp or two, splashed more of it onto his armor and cloak, and passed the bottle to Araris, who did the same. They pulled up the hoods and turned to Ehren. "Well?" Tavi asked.

  Ehren studied them critically and nodded. "Pretty good. "

  "Let's go," Tavi said.

  They followed the route Cams and Gert would have used to return to the Tower, shadowed by Ehren. The little Cursor dogged their footsteps until they came within sight of the Tower, at which point he disappeared.

  "Relax your knees a little," Tavi murmured to Araris. "You don't look drunk enough. "

  "Not everyone's had Cursor training," Araris replied. But he did as Tavi said, and they approached the gate.

  "Who's that?" called the on-duty guard in sleepy challenge.

  Tavi recognized the voice of Tiberus, another of the Guardsmen he knew, and he did his best to imitate Carus's voice. "Come on, Tib," he slurred. "You know who it is. "

  "About time," Tiberus replied, yawning. "Hold on. " He appeared behind the gates, holding a ring of keys. He shambled up sleepily and unlocked the gates.

  The instant they were unlocked, Tavi slammed the gate open, hard. It struck Tiberus on the forehead, and he staggered back. Tavi closed on him before the expression of shocked surprise faded, and struck him once, then twice across the jaw with his closed fists. Tiberus rocked back and forth under the pair of blows, then seemed simply to deflate. He sank slowly to the ground.

  Tavi winced, shaking his right hand, while Araris seized Tiberus and hauled him into the guardhouse and out of sight. Tavi closed the gate and locked it, then took the heavy ring of keys. He turned and started walking toward the entrance of the tower proper, and Araris fell into step beside him.

  They crossed the lawn and walked through the front door of the Grey Tower. Most of the Grey Guard would be asleep now, Tavi knew. A handful of men were on duty, stationed at each floor currently occupied by a prisoner, but not on the stairs themselves. Tavi and Araris went swiftly up the staircase. There were candle-sized furylamps alight at each landing, and they moved as quietly as they could through the dim light until they reached the floor with Varg's cell.

  A single guard was on duty in the alcove in the hall adjoining the stairs, an earnest-looking young man Tavi didn't recognize. He sat at a table, writing what looked like a letter. "Is it two already?" the man asked absently. "I thought the midnight bell just-"

  The young Guardsman looked up. His eyes flicked between Tavi and Araris, and suddenly widened. He pushed his chair back and began to rise, his mouth opening.

  Araris closed the distance before the young guard could stand, his blade appearing in his hand. He lashed out with the pommel, and that Guardsman, too, went down in a heap, his armor clattering.

  Tavi stepped over to the stairs, listening for any outcry, but the sound evi-dently had not traveled down the stone stairway. He let out his breath slowly and nodded to Araris.

  "All right," he said. "I'll go get him. Then we'll-"

  Somewhere in the building, a bell began to ring in a rapid toll of alarm.

  Tavi's heart leapt into his throat. "What happened?" he demanded. "What the crows happened? What did we miss?"

  Voices cried out somewhere on the staircase below them. A series of rumbling clanks rippled through the building as the newly installed steel portcullises began to slam down all throughout the building, sealing it off from the outside world.

  There was a rumble above him, and Tavi barely managed to throw himself forward, into the hallway leading to the prison cells, before several hundred pounds of steel grating plunged down from overhead and slammed to the floor. He turned and stared at the gate now separating him from Araris and the stairway.

  "It doesn't matter what we missed," Araris said. He flicked his sword in a little circle, as if loosening his wrist, picked up the sword of the unconscious Guardsman, and stepped out onto the stairway. "Go get the Cane. I'll hold the stairs. "

  Tavi nodded, turned, and rushed down the hall toward Varg's cell, while the cries of the Grey Guard grew louder, the alarm kept ringing, and the sound of many booted feet striking stone rose up the stairway.

  Chapter 34

  Varg's cell was a spacious chamber that could fairly be called a suite. The ceilings were high enough even for the ten-foot Cane to stand erect, if he wished, and the cell was divided into a living area, a bedroom, and small dining area. As Tavi approached, the rust-and-musk scent of the Cane bombarded his senses, bringing back the memories of his regular visits with Varg, as well as the memories of the Canim Ambassador's actions during the initial assault of the Vord queen.

  Tavi approached the darkened cell, but he couldn't see Varg. Shadows hid most of the suite, but even so, it was difficult to believe that the enormous Cane could have hidden himself. The bed, Tavi thought, was unoccupied, but he couldn't be certain.

  He certainly had no intention of opening the door until after he'd spoken to Varg. He might have been on fairly good terms with the Cane, for an Aleran, but Tavi had no illusions. Varg was not his friend. If he thought that the situation might present him an opportunity to escape, and that he could do so by killing Tavi, the Cane would do it. He might regret the necessity, in retrospect, but that wouldn't slow the Cane's claws or fangs for an instant.

  Tavi stopped at the door, and called, "Varg! It's Tavi of Calderon. I would speak with you. "

  In the shadows near the suite's hearth, two flickering gleams of scarlet appeared. A breath later, the shadows stirred, and the enormous shape of the Cane stepped forward into what little light came in from the hall.

  Varg looked like something out of a nightmare. Huge, even by the standards of the Canim, he stood nearly ten feet tall. He had fur of darkest black, but it was crisscrossed with so many fine streaks of white, where the fur had grown up through the Cane's battle scars, that in the right light his fur looked almost grey. One of his ears was notched, and a glistening red jewel carved into the shape of a human skull dangled from a gold ring in it. His eyes, black irises against fields of blood-red, studied Tavi with an amused intelligence and, despite his size, he moved as nimbly as a cat as he prowled across the suite to face Tavi.

  Tavi leaned his head slightly to one side, exposing the side of his throat. It was a bit of Canim body language similar to a human nod, and Varg returned the gesture, though he did not tilt his head so far as Tavi had.

  "You have grown," Varg growled. The Cane's voice was a snarling basso, and his words were mangled by his fangs on the way out of his throat, but his Aleran was perfectly intelligible. "This alarm is your doing, I take it. "

  "Yes," Tavi said. "I want you to come with me. "

  Varg tilted his head. "Why?"

  "There is little time for talk," Tavi said.

  Varg's eyes narrowed but his tail flicked in a gesture Tavi had come to understand as an implied agreement. "Do you act for your First Lord in this?"

  "I act to protect his interests," Tavi said.

  "But you do this at his bidding?" Varg pressed.

  "Our people have a phrase, sir: It is easier to secure forgiveness than permission. "

  Varg's ears flicked in amusement. "Ah. What are your intentions for me?"

  "I intend to get you out of this prison," Tavi said. "Then smuggle you out of the city. Then I will take you to the coast and return you to the commander of the Canim army who invaded two years ago. Hopefully, I'll be able to stop our people from tearing one another apart by doing so. "

  Varg's chest rumbled with a low growl. "Who leads my people in your land?"

  "The wa
rrior Nasaug," Tavi said.

  Varg's ears suddenly swiveled toward Tavi, so alert that they quivered. "Nasaug is in Alera?"

  Tavi nodded. "He offered to discuss a cessation of hostilities if you were returned to your people. I have come to do that. "

  Varg paced closer to the bars. "Tell me," he growled, "why I should trust you. "

  "You shouldn't," Tavi said. "I am your enemy, and you are mine. But by sending you back to your people, I help my own. Gadara or not, I need you returned to them, alive and healthy. "

  Varg's chest rumbled suddenly. "Gadara. You did not learn that word from me. "

  "No," Tavi said. "It is what Nasaug called me. "

  Steel suddenly rang on steel down the hallway, and flashes of colored light splashed onto the walls of the hallway, where the swords of metalcrafters clashed on the stairs.

  Tavi gritted his teeth and turned back to Varg. "Do you want out of this hole or not?"

  Varg bared his teeth in his imitation of an Aleran smile. "Open the door. "

  "First," Tavi said, "I will have your word. "

  Varg tilted his head.

  "I'm the one who is getting you out of here, and I can't do it without your cooperation. If I let you out, you become part of my pack. If I tell you to do something, you do it, no questions or arguing-and I will have your word that you will do no harm to my people while you travel with me. "

  A scream echoed down the hall. There was a brief pause, then the flickering lights and steely chimes of swordplay resumed.

  Varg stared at Tavi for what seemed like a week, though it could not have been more than a few seconds. "You lead," he growled. "I follow. Until you are unworthy of it. "

  Tavi bared his teeth. "That is insufficient. "

  "It is the oath my pack swears to me," Varg said. "I am Canim. I will stay in this hole and rot before I become something I am not. "

  Tavi closed his mouth again and nodded once. "But I will have your promise to do no harm to my people until you are returned to your own. "

  "Agreed," Varg said. "I will keep my word so long as you keep yours. "

  "Done," Tavi said.

  This was the tricky part. Varg had never lied to Tavi, as far as the young man knew-but Tavi thought it more than a little possible that Varg might sacrifice his personal honor if he deemed it necessary to serve his people. Varg would never be able to escape Alera without help, and Tavi thought him smart enough to realize that-but Varg had shown him, more than once, that the Canim did not think the way Alerans did. Varg might have different thoughts than Tavi on the subject of his escape.

  But there was no sense in backing out now.

  Tavi thrust the key into the cell's door and unlocked it, opening it for Varg. He backed away as seven hundred pounds of fang, fur, and muscle squeezed sideways through the cell door.

  Once free, Varg crouched, to put his eyes on level with Tavi's. Then, deliberately, he bowed his head to one side, more deeply than he had before. Tavi returned the gesture, instinctively making his own motion shallower, and Varg flicked his ears in satisfaction. "I follow, gadara. "

  Tavi nodded once. "This way," he said, and strode back down the hallway. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as he turned away from the Cane. If Varg intended to betray him, he would do it now.

  A low coughing grunt, the Canim equivalent of laughter, came from behind Tavi.

  "No, gadara" Varg growled. "The time to kill you has not yet come. "

  Tavi glanced over his shoulder and gave Varg an exasperated scowl. "How very reassuring. "

  Tavi drew his own sword as they reached the stairway and found Araris fighting to hold the landing. Two men in the armor of the Grey Guard were down, being hauled away by their companions, but the rest were dressed in little more than their breeches, their hair mussed from sleep. Most of the Guardsmen had been sound asleep when the alarm sounded and had simply seized their blades and come running.

  Now, three men faced Araris, though they had to stand sideways on the stairs, pressed together in the tight space. They were fighting cautiously, and while they could not manage to break through Araris's defense without exposing their unarmored flesh to his blades, Araris could not get close enough to strike one without being faced with the two blades of his companions.

  "We're ready!" Tavi shouted.

  "Go, go!" Araris said. "Hurry, get clear!"

  Tavi turned to face the steel portcullis and closed his eyes for a second or two, concentrating. He felt his awareness spread into the sword in his hand, and he could sense the air moving around it as if it had been his own hand. He focused on that awareness, reaching out to the blades timeless spirit, and poured his own effort and will into the steel, strengthening and sharpening it.

  He let out a shout and struck at the portcullis, sure that the fury-enhanced blade would be able to cut them free within several strokes.

  A virtual hurricane of sparks flew up where the blade contacted the portcullis, scarlet and blue and violet all mixed together, and Tavi felt the shock of impact lance up through the sword's blade and into his arm. It hurt, as if he'd slammed his unprotected fist into a brick wall, and he let out a snarl of pain.

  The bars of the portcullis had not been severed. One of them evinced a slight gouge, but other than that, Tavi may as well have struck the furycrafted steel with a willow branch.

  "They improved it," Tavi hissed, clutching at the wrist of his sword arm with his left hand. "They crafted the portcullis! I can't cut it!"

  "I'm a little busy here," Araris snapped. "Do something!"

  Tavi nodded once and sheathed his sword. The new gates, once dropped, had been fitted with a crafting that closed the stone behind them, so that there was no way to lift them again. They were simply locked into the stone around them and could not be moved until the building's furies were persuaded to open the stone above the gates once more. They could not be raised again-but that did not necessarily mean that they could not be moved.

  Tavi seized the portcullis with both hands, planted his feet, and reached down into the stone beneath him. He drew upon that steady, constant strength, and felt it flooding up into him through his legs, hips, spreading over his chest and into his shoulders and arms. He gathered in as much of that power as he could, then gritted his teeth and heaved at the steel grate, attempting to wrench it free of the stone around it by sheer, brute force.

  The gate's steel might have been crafted to resist the impact of fury-enhanced blades, but that didn't mean it could not be bent by power applied in a different way. The steel flexed slightly and quivered as Tavi pulled. It began to warp a little, no more than an inch or so, then Tavi found himself gasping, unable to sustain the effort. His breath exploded out of his lungs in a gasp, and the flexible steel of the grate flexed almost entirely back into its original shape. Its deformation was barely visible.

  A huge, furred arm nudged Tavi gently aside, and Varg stepped up to the grate. The Cane narrowed his eyes, spreading his long arms out to grip the grate at one corner at its top, and the opposite corner at its bottom. Then he settled his feet, snarled, and wrenched at the grate.

  For a second, nothing happened. Muscles corded and twisted beneath the Cane's thick fur, quivering with effort. Then Varg let out a roar of effort, and his hunched, powerful shoulders jerked.

  There was a scream of tortured rock, and then the furycrafted stone wall of the hallway itself shattered. Pieces of stone went flying as the Cane ripped the steel grate clear of its stone frame.

  Varg snarled, tilted the grate to get through the doorway to the stairs, and without preamble flung it over Araris's head and down upon the Guardsmen on the stairs.

  Varg hadn't thrown it with any particular force, but the grate weighed several hundred pounds if it weighed an ounce, and it fell flat upon the unarmored guardsmen like some enormous flyswatter, pressing the struggling men down and pinning them.

  Araris blinked at the grate, then
at the Cane, his mouth opening slightly.

  "Come on," Tavi snapped. "Before they get loose. We're leaving. "

  The Grey Tower's enhanced defenses had been designed to prevent anyone from leaving-but the logic behind its layout assumed that an escaping prisoner would run for the only exit-the front door. Now that the windows were covered with heavy bars, the only way out was through the front door, and the building's security plans had been designed to make it impossible for a prisoner to descend the stairway and exit the building. The heavy portcullis gates isolated each level of the prison from the stairway, and more cut the stairway off from the rest of the building, while still more heavy grates sealed the building's only exit, several floors below.

  Which was why Tavi flung himself onto the stairs and sprinted up them, toward the roof.

  He fervently hoped that Kitai and Isana's portion of the plan hadn't gone as badly wrong as theirs had-or this evening was going to come to an early, painful, and spectacularly bloody conclusion.